In 2019, Japan reported a record high 4,321 cannabis-related offenses, suggesting cannabis use may be on the rise in the country.
Japan is a country known for many things, its booming city of Tokyo, forms of martial arts such as Karate and Judo, the lightning-fast Shinkansen Bullet train and the beautiful Mt. Fuji.
Additionally, Japan is famous, or infamous, for its strict laws surrounding illicit drug use. Those found in possession of cannabis in Japan may face up to five years in prison, and those found cultivating the plant can be sent to prison for seven years. Japanese actors and actresses caught with marijuana find their re-runs being cancelled from airing, and Japanese athletes caught with cannabis lose all of their sponsors overnight.
The rules around cannabis in Japan are hard-and-fast; don't have anything to do with weed or you'll regret it.
This is why it's particularly interesting that a growing number of Japanese citizens are being arrested for cannabis-related offenses each year. In 2019, a record-high 4,321 individuals were involved in cannabis cases in Japan last year, which was an increase of 743 over the previous year. Such increases have been occurring for over six consecutive years, according to police.
The biggest spike in those caught with cannabis occurs among adolescents, aged 14-19, which increased over four times from 2 people per 100,000 to 8.7 per 100,000 over the past four years. During that same period, those caught with cannabis aged between 20-30 more than doubled, from 6.9 to 15.5 per 100,000 people.
The National Police Agency warned that there is often less fear for young people around the harms of cannabis, which leads to them trying the drug out of curiosity.
"It is necessary to correctly inform them about the harmful effects (of cannabis) such as a severe influence on cognitive functions and higher risk of developing mental symptoms," The Agency said.
Though among all age groups, cannabis use was increasing in Japan, with people in their 30s, 40s, and 50s all becoming more prominent cannabis users.
The country's National Police Agency also surveyed drug offenders on how dangerous they perceived cannabis to be and with only 15.4% of respondents saying they saw cannabis as being dangerous. Conversely, 78.6% of them said that methamphetamines posed a more severe risk.
In 2019, Police agents confiscated over 350kg of marijuana, and nearly 13kg of hashish.
The increase in cannabis usage may be due to increased visibility and promotion of cannabis use globally, as Canada has legalized the plant and various States in the US increasingly enjoy the financial benefits that cannabis legalization brings. Though on a more local level, there is one unlikely advocate for the plant; the Prime Minister of Japan's wife.
Akie Abe, the First Lady of Japan, has previously been photographed smiling amid a field of marijuana plants, suggesting that she is not as anti-pot as the laws of the country are. Whether this is foreshadowing a potential change in Japan's cannabis laws is uncertain, though it's clear that a growing number of Japanese Citizens are enjoying their usage of the plant – until they get caught.
Additionally, if Japan looks toward countries like Canada or the United States' cannabis legalization efforts, they can see that cannabis not only brings in additional jobs and tax revenue, but cannabis usage actually decreases among teenagers after legalization. Given that the brunt of Japan's rise in cannabis use is coming from teens, this could be advantageous to the country.
Moreover, if Japan, a country famous for its strict laws surrounding cannabis, were to loosen its legislative approach toward the plant, perhaps others would be inclined to follow.
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